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There are four basic approaches, that can also be combined:
- Two or more crops in succession: After one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of the growing season, climate, and crop selection are key factors. For example, a cool season spring crop could be followed by a heat-loving summer crop.
- Same crop, successive plantings: Several smaller plantings are made at timed intervals, rather than all at once. The plants mature at staggered dates, establishing a continuous harvest over an extended period. Lettuce and other salad greens are common crops for this approach.
- Two or more crops simultaneously: Non-competing crops, often with different maturity dates, are planted together in various patterns. Intercropping is one pattern approach; companion planting is a related, complementary practice.
- Same crop, different maturity dates: Several varieties are selected, with different maturity dates: early, main season, late. Planted at the same time, the varieties mature one after the other over the season.
These techniques can be used to design complex, highly productive cropping systems. The more involved the plan, the more detailed knowledge is required of the specific varieties and how they perform in a particular growing location.
The term "succession planting" usually appears in literature for home gardening and small-scale farming, although the techniques apply to any scale. Some definitions include one or more, but not all of the four techniques described above.
Succession planting is often used in organic farming. Multiple cropping describes essentially the same general method. A catch crop refers to a specific type of succession planting, where a fast-growing crop is grown simultaneously with, or between successive plantings of, a main crop.
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